Life With a Puppy Named Finnegan, Ringworm, and COVID-19
“I can’t send him back because I fell in love with him.”
Those are the words I wrote to the breeder of my barely 4-month-old Norfolk terrier puppy “Finnegan” when he was diagnosed with ringworm and she offered to take him back. How did I discover he had it? I woke up, in my daughter’s house in Florida, my chin and neck sporting round, red lesions.
As a redhead, I have a tendency to get rashes, hives, skin cancer, adult acne, and every other manner of skin ailment. I knew it was none of those. A quick check on the Internet showed photos resembling my spots. I had ringworm—a new condition for me. “You got it from Finnegan,” my daughter said.
We checked the puppy and read more information. That red spot in his ear with the missing hair was clearly ringworm. Off to the vet we went and it was confirmed. The puppy and I had ringworm.
But let me start at the beginning.
On January 28, 2020, I flew to Dallas to pick up a beautiful puppy from an AKC highly-rated breeder. I’d spoken to her several times on the phone, and we developed a rapport almost immediately. I checked her credentials carefully and was impressed that the puppy was raised on a large ranch with kids and lots of love. From the start it was obvious my little Finnegan was well adjusted, incredibly bright, and a friendly, happy little pup. The flight home was easy, and he was an absolute doll, turning heads at the airport, causing teenage girls to squeal, and eliciting shrieks from children. I think he knew the effect he was having and managed to charm several TSA workers.
Two days later I took Finnegan to see Dr. A (supposedly the best vet in my city) with the directions that I was leaving for Florida in 4 days to stay with my daughter and that the puppy needed to be tested for anything contagious. My daughter has a 6-year-old Norwich terrier and she did not want him to catch anything from the puppy. I told Dr. A I picked up the puppy in Dallas; I gave his office all the paperwork from the breeder and her vet. The puppy had a rabies vaccine and a final check on January 24, 2020, just before I picked him up.
I reported to Dr. A that the puppy had been scratching his left ear. Dr. A told me there was hair missing from the left ear and that it was red. He said “the other puppies in the litter chewed it.” He gave me Animax ointment and told me to buy Vitamin E capsules to put on it. He said the puppy had nothing contagious and he wrote me a health certificate for the airplane (C-736005). The vet bill from this visit was $876.95; I was shocked at the price.
I developed round red spots all over my chin and neck by the end of the first week in February. My daughter and I immediately suspected the puppy and began reading about it on the Internet.
I called Dr. A’s office on February 10, 2020 and the first thing the receptionist said was “He didn’t have it when he was here.” I asked her how she could know that since she wasn’t in the room. She was adamant that “there’s nothing we can do.” She told me to “see a vet in Florida.” There was no offer to have Dr. A speak to me (the one I’d just paid $876.95 to) or to follow-up. I felt completely abandoned by “the best vet in town.”
We took the puppy to my daughter’s vet at Banfield in central Florida on Feb 12 ($353.85). The puppy was put on 2x a week baths with Hexachlor-K shampoo and given oral meds (Griseofulvin). I spent my birthday and the next week bleaching and cleaning my daughter’s house. I took her dog to the vet on February 15, 2020 to be checked for ringworm (another $148). I bought Lotrimin for myself, but it didn’t work.
I called the breeder and she admitted that the cattle on their ranch had recently come down with ringworm. She offered to take the puppy back, but by then I was already in love with him. I was angry about the ringworm—shouldn’t she have been more careful about the cows—but I tried to control my temper. Everyone screws up, right? She sent me some money for the vet bill without asking.
I returned home later in February, quite angry at Dr. A because I felt he had misdiagnosed the problem. The vet in Florida said hair loss and redness in puppies is a sign of ringworm and a Wood’s light should have been shined on the ear. She did this in Florida and it glowed a bright green. She also took a culture and it did come back positive. Of course, my face was probably proof that it was ringworm.
I had an argument with Dr. A on February 21, 2020. He would not admit to a mistake on his part. He took Finnegan off the Griseofulvin because he said it was toxic. The puppy had been on this drug for about 2 weeks. The vet in Florida said to give it for 2 months, but Dr. A was quite adamant that the drug was toxic. I asked why I hadn’t been told that when I called his office after this appointment in Florida. A tech named Sarah said “I didn’t want to disagree with another vet.”
I called the vet in Florida who said Griseofulvin was not toxic. Dr. A said to stop giving the baths because the ringworm was only in the ears and so was not necessary. I continued to wash bedding and bleach my floors every single day. This is not an ideal situation for a germaphobe. Ringworm spores can live in an environment for over a year.
Dr. A then put Finny on Fluconazole ($102). Does this medication cause bladder control loss? The puppy reverted backward on the potty training. Dr. A told me to scrub the puppy’s ears aggressively twice a day with Chlorhexidine 3% pads, using a clean one every time, then drying the ears with a cotton ball and applying a thin layer of Conzol 1%. The pads were $45.36 for each container and I have purchased 3.
I saw my dermatologist on February 20, 2020; he put me on Terbinafine because the Lotrimin was not working. This resulted in a payment by me of $171.
I began going in every 2 weeks to have the puppy’s ears checked under the Wood’s light. For every appointment they told me he was still positive. They never once suggested a culture should be done.
On April 7, 2020, I waited in my car for over an hour while the techs called Dr. A and sent him pictures. They would not tell me where the ringworm was, except that it was still there; I asked several times and was finally told “we’re not sure.” I was told to purchase a lime sulfur solution and dip the puppy twice a week for 2 months! But Dr. A told me previously that if it was in the ears, this was not necessary. Their office did not have this solution and ordering it online would take 2 weeks because of the delivery problems as a result of COVID-19. Then, I was told, a DTM culture will be performed. A month later, another one. There have to be 2 consecutive negative DTM cultures 4 weeks apart. Dr. A decided to switch the oral meds to Itrafungol (itraconazole) once a day for the next month (4 ml). Then, they’d retest and as a result of this medication, a blood panel to check liver and kidney function would have to be done. Did I mention this vet visit was close to $300?
After crying for most of the day, I called Dr. M because three of my neighbors said he was amazing and specialized in doggie skin conditions. I saw him on April 15 ($298.99). He ran a Ringworm Real PCR Panel 3685, which has two parts. The first part came back positive for dead ringworm. The second part came back negative for growing a culture. That basically means Finnegan had ringworm, but that it’s dead. Dr. M says there are lots of reasons the puppy could glow under a Wood’s light. He cut down the Itrafungol to 2.5 ml per day for every other week (so, one week on the meds, one week off). He said to be gentle with the ear wipes and that I could continue using the Clotrimazole spray on the ears; sent to me by the breeder the previous day.
I was thrilled that the test was negative! Finally, after all these months, Finnegan would soon be able to be around other people and dogs. All my neighbors who see me on our daily walks know Finnegan can’t be petted, due to the ringworm. That’s really the most difficult part of all. Finny cries and pulls and wants to play. He’s my gorgeous social butterfly. I know he would be happier with a big boisterous family. Every night when I put him to bed, I whisper a thank you to him for being my puppy, even though I’m just one person. Even when he gets over the ringworm, due to COVID-19 and social distancing, he still won’t be able to interact with people the way that I know he wants to. My hope is that I can return to Florida to see my daughter and that her dog and Finny can once again play together.
I was quite excited to go to the next vet appointment on May 13, 2020 for the last test that would, hopefully, verify the ringworm was gone. Unfortunately, I woke up on the Friday before, once again sporting ringworm spots—only two this time, but still ringworm. I called my dermatologist who wrote another prescription for Terbinafine. I tried the Lotrimin, as before, but I didn’t expect it to work. My sister suggested I use an athlete’s foot cream because it had Terbinafine cream (athlete’s foot is ringworm, which incidentally is not a worm but a fungus). It seems to be working this time.
I sent emails out and researched ringworm and no one I’ve spoken to has ever had this level of expense ($1,634.68 for just ringworm costs—not including other vet services and not including the first visit to Dr. A). I followed all vet directions to the letter, including daily laundering of bedding and bleaching of my floors. I never failed to clean the puppy’s ears or give him the medication.
I went to the May 13 appointment with Dr. M. He said to continue on the oral meds, stop the Clotrimazole spray, and to be very gentle with the ear wipes. He also sold me a bottle of Douxo Chlorhex PS shampoo and instructed me to give Finny a bath every week. I’m not allowed to use conditioners or detanglers on his thick coat. I did this yesterday and it took me over two hours.
This has been my life since February—cleaning, laundry, bleaching, daily vacuuming, baths and brushing, giving meds, cleaning ears twice a day, and spending a considerable amount of money. If you follow me on Facebook at @AuthorCarolFiore then you’ve seen the Monday Finnegan memes. He’s a sweetheart and the absolute cutest puppy.
Dr. A insists it isn’t his fault; the breeder is the one to blame, he says. The breeder was apologetic, but I wonder if she blames her vet for not catching it on January 24. I hope she knows now that puppies and cattle don’t mix. Dr. M doesn’t want to get involved, but I think he was impatient with me during this last visit. “Ringworm can take 3 or 4 months to get rid of,” he declared.
My advice to anyone getting a new puppy (or kitten) is this: have the animal thoroughly checked for ringworm before you fall in love with them. Once they steal your heart, you’re screwed.
It is my wish that this lengthy blog will help others make a more informed decision about their pets. My protagonist wishes someone a happy life at the end of the third book in The Skye Van Bloem Trilogy, which has just been sent to my developmental editor. Another character tells her she deserves to be happy too. Her response is that she will be but some people have to work harder at it. I think Finny and I will be happier one day too. The ringworm can’t last forever and neither can COVID-19. One day, he will get to play with other dogs and be petted by teenage girls (his favorite). We’ll get to fly again (he loves airports), and maybe, one day, he’ll get to sleep on the bed with me.